A postharvest program in sub-Saharan Africa promises long term benefits

Nov 15, 2012

In sub-Saharan Africa, postharvest losses of horticultural crops range from 30 percent to an astonishing 80 percent. Ongoing problems with food quality, safety and nutritional value are well documented. A number of past projects have identified appropriate actions, including implementing improvements in produce handling, training for regional agricultural leaders, capacity building, and small-scale infrastructure development, but these recommendations had not ever been integrated into local solutions. In 2011 the Horticulture CRSP awarded a pilot project to Diane Barrett, UC Cooperative Extension specialist in the Department of Food Science and Technology at UC Davis, Lisa Kitinoja of the World Food Logistics Organization, and Rob Shewfelt of the University of Georgia.

Since receiving funding from Horticulture CRSP, the initial focus has been developing and implementing a year-long, online training of 36 agricultural professionals in advanced postharvest technology, and building the first Postharvest Training and Services Center (PTSC) in Arusha, Tanzania, at the AVRDC – The World Vegetable Center’s Regional Center for Africa Campus.

Then, in early October 2012, when the Arusha PTSC first opened its doors, all 36 of the master trainers traveled to the center to complete the 11-day in-person segment of their training.

By mid-October the 36 “master trainers” officially “launched” the PTSC by participating in a series of training programs for local farmers in Arusha, before returning to their own countries with the designs and tools needed to launch new PTSCs and provide similar services and training. This project and all the PTSCs will provide access to training programs, adaptive research and demonstrations. These, along with the needed tools and supplies, will help to reduce postharvest losses and improve market access and incomes for small holders and women farmers throughout Africa.

“The launch of this pilot Postharvest Training and Services Center in Arusha is a great step in the direction of reducing food losses in developing countries," Kitinoja said.
She continues, "First, since we have trained 36 Africans as postharvest specialists from seven countries in sub-Saharan Africa, we now have a pool of skilled people to help us provide local training programs, demonstrations on improved postharvest practices, small-scale postharvest handling and processing technologies and innovative approaches to postharvest extension work, logistics and management of horticultural value chains. Already these young people have been implementing postharvest training activities in their own countries, and during 2011-12 they were able to reach more than 8,000 extension workers, leader farmers and horticultural entrepreneurs. 
“Second, our model PTSC being piloted in Tanzania under the Horticultural CRSP postharvest extension for sub-Saharan Africa will serve as a hub for continuous activities in postharvest research, training of postharvest trainers and extension workers in East Africa, international short courses in postharvest technology, and training of local farmers in cost effective postharvest handling practices. Next week the first meeting will be held for the new Postharvest Working Group for Tanzanian researchers, and for 2013 we already have training programs scheduled on topics including improved practices for harvesting and field packing, cooling and cool storage for perishable crops, improved solar drying and packaging of dried horticultural crops.  
“Third, the PTSC will provide local access for local farmers, farmers associations such as TAHA and regional extension workers to the missing postharvest tools, supplies, equipment and services that they will need in order to be able to implement the kind of improvements being promoted via the postharvest training programs being provided in Arusha. Most international projects provide education for potential beneficiaries, but very few projects provide the kind of follow-up that is needed to ensure that those who learn about new practices and technologies will actually get the chance to use them. In this case, a PTSC postharvest shop will allow the beneficiaries to invest in a wide range of options and the postharvest tools and supplies that it requires to be able to use a set of cost-effective improved practices and that leads to practical results and long-term changes, including reduced food losses and improved incomes.”

Decorating for the official launch of the PTSC.
Decorating for the official launch of the PTSC.
Dr. Diane Barrett teaching at the in-person sessions at the PTSC.
Diane Barrett teaching at the in-person sessions at the PTSC.
First week group photo with the Master Trainers.
First week group photo with the master trainers.
Local farmers attend classes at the PTSC in Arusha, Tanzania.
Local farmers attend classes at the PTSC in Arusha, Tanzania.

The Horticulture Collaborative Research Support Program (Horticulture CRSP) builds global partnerships for fruit and vegetable research to improve livelihoods in developing countries. The program is managed by UC Davis (directed by Beth Mitcham who also serves as the Postharvest Technology Center's Director) and funded by USAID. For more information, visit http://hortcrsp.ucdavis.edu.

By Mary E. Reed
Author - Program Representative
By Lisa Kitinoja